Going full circle: How energy distribution and servicing will evolve in 2024

Going full circle: How energy distribution and servicing will evolve in 2024

This year promises significant shifts in energy distribution and servicing, propelled by a confluence of global factors, technological advancements and the urgent call to accelerate the climate transition. Stuart Thompson, President of ABB Electrification Service, shares his views on the evolution of energy distribution and servicing in 2024.

Industrial businesses are being forced to think differently about spending, sustainability and security in the face of the ongoing volatile geopolitical landscape and energy uncertainty. In 2024, we expect this to bring about a change from globalization to decentralization and an adoption of technology that will sure-up energy reliability within companies’ own systems, including shifts from cloud to local edge-based computing and last-minute to predictive maintenance. We also anticipate a greater focus on meeting sustainability goals through improving energy efficiency and adopting a circularity approach to asset management.

With this in mind, here are five trends in industrial services we see emerging in 2024.

From global to regional and local

The experience of the pandemic and the subsequent travel restrictions coupled with continuing political instability has left industrial businesses rethinking how they safeguard their operations and sure-up their energy supply for the immediate and long-term.  The biggest trend we see emerging is the switch in focus from global to regional and local servicing, driven by geopolitical-friendly country alliances and time-zones. Companies want more than anything to be serviced domestically in their own markets, with speed of response and local knowledge deemed essential to keeping the power on 24/7.

That’s why at ABB Electrification Service we are investing in new training centers in strategic global locations outside of Europe, to ensure our customers have access to capable teams in their region. For example, we recently opened a center in Singapore to serve the Asian markets that has been extremely well received with close t0 3,000 hours of hands-on training delivered in the first six months. We are soon to open another center in Dubai to cover the Middle East, with more training facilities being considered.

Exponential growth of edge computing

In 2024 this local focus will expand to the way businesses organize their computing and data processing. Keeping computing power closer to the data source ‒ or ‘edge’ of the network ‒ using edge computing, allows for the scaling of decision-making and complements cloud computing, which will also continue to grow.

The integration of edge computing aids in real-time data capture, management and analytics, as well as reducing cyber security risks.

For example, at present, it is common to visit a remote wind farm or an EV charging station and find that the turbines aren’t spinning or the charger isn’t charging. Edge computing would feed data about the performance of those installations back to us much more quickly and start predicting problems before they occur. The beauty of edge computing is that we can store data locally, reducing latency, speeding up critical data processing closer to where the device is located and extracting critical data to the cloud when we need to make decisions.

For this reason, ABB is collaborating with Pratexo to help customers manage and monitor electrical systems using edge and edge-to-cloud hybrid computing. Thanks to the system’s rapid data gathering and analysis capabilities, it can identify what could potentially be causing machine faults in real time and optimize at the most local level to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances such as changes in power availability and consumption.

Smart services – shifting to digital

The world of servicing is changing at pace where the installed base is going to be so smart that we can predict an ‘event’ before it happens. This will drive efficiencies and deployment of resources will be a lot more capable, whereby self-diagnosis will be much faster and accurate, greatly improving safety levels. For example, at ABB our service engineers are already using smart wearable devices as a back-up to safety, but this is going to become even more interactive. Just like a car has sensors that activate when it gets too close to another vehicle, the wearable will vibrate when our engineers are approaching live electricity.

So, in 2024 we are going to see devices getting smarter and databases are going to become real-time, with the integration of cognitive technologies such as chatbots, speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and language recognition. 

A great example of this is the Service Assist mobile app from ABB, which empowers customers to self-serve or access remote assistance for electrification products, enhancing productivity and efficiency. This app leverages the ABB-e virtual assistant, which harnesses voice control and intent recognition to access augmented reality immersive guides, schedule appointments for on-site or remote services, and consolidate relevant documentation—all within a single digital platform. This removes the need for an engineer to travel to the facility, which increases efficiency, reduces downtime and drastically cuts CO2 emissions.

And the big enabler of this advancement is the digitalization of asset management. For industrial businesses, rather than ripping electrical assets out and replacing them, smart sensors embedded into equipment provide massive quantities of data that can be used to drive productivity, performance and reliability, as well as extending the lifetime of the equipment.

According to ABB’s white paper, See the potential of digital, faster, which surveyed more than 300 industrial decision-makers across seven markets and nine industries, 93 percent of businesses are already on their digitalization journey, although only 21 percent have reached maturity and are getting all the benefits they can out of Industrial Internet of Things technology (IIoT).

For example, the ABB Ability™ Condition Monitoring for electrical systems (CMES) enables switchgear operators and plant maintenance managers to monitor and manage electrical distribution systems in real time to optimize maintenance and operational costs and energy consumption.

Similarly, by constantly collecting data across medium- and low-voltage switchgear and circuit breakers, the ABB Ability™ Asset Manager gives users a complete view of their electrical system to see how components are performing and which areas need maintenance. With this additional information, electrical professionals can replace regular scheduled maintenance with reactive condition-based maintenance, predicting equipment faults before they happen, and reducing operational expenditure.

In 2024, we will see more businesses investing in smart servicing technologies that allow them to diagnose faults more quickly and predict equipment failure before it happens, reducing downtime and improving operational efficiency and safety.

Tackling throwaway culture

Closing the loop on the challenges facing industrial businesses – including cost pressures, environmental legislation and competitiveness – is the adoption of circularity.

Industries are looking to supplant the wasteful culture of old by extending the life of existing assets. This can be achieved by focusing on the principles of long-lasting design that minimizes pollution by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible to reduce resource dependency. To aid this process, digitalization is key, with the retrofitting or upgrading of electrical components with next-generation digital solutions that can extend equipment lifetime by as much as 30 years, saving costs and reducing the impact on the environment.

In fact, more than 50 percent of electrical equipment like metal cabinets for switchgear, steel plates and busbars can be used perpetually without being replaced if outdated components such as circuit breakers, relays and internal components are upgraded, regularly monitored and maintained.

Companies are also increasingly demanding that the equipment they specify has a greener footprint and is independently certified by Environment Product Declarations (EPDs).

And when it comes to end-of-life, how old equipment is recycled or repurposed is something that we are going to see become a mainstream part of operational strategy. With electrical distribution systems, steel and copper make up around 80 percent of the assembly, with aluminium, oil and plastics comprising much of the rest. Most of these materials are reclaimable at the end of a product’s life and can be retained within the circular economy using appropriate recycling methods.  

However, there is still much work to be done on this front. ABB’s digitalization white paper revealed that 36 percent of businesses replace equipment only when required, rather than taking a proactive approach to digitalization.

We expect to see this percentage sharply decrease in 2024, with industrial companies shifting their focus from a last-minute approach to servicing to a more consultative partnership by investing in a program of regular maintenance of their electrical infrastructure. This will enable faster, more convenient and more confident management of their power supply, as well as promoting a circular economy and preserving finite resources by focusing on repair, retrofit, reuse and recycle.

Our recently launched circularity guide, ‘Tackling Throwaway Culture’, offers a range of practical ideas for implementing circularity in asset management, from optimizing predictive maintenance and condition monitoring to adopting a ‘component-only’ approach to retrofitting and upgrades.

Driving innovation through collaboration

The idea of taking a more collaborative approach to servicing is also gaining momentum, with businesses looking for long-term partners they trust to work as an extension of their teams ‒ from installation to end of life ‒ driving new levels of operational efficiency.

We are also seeing increasing demand for our advisory services, whereby we proactively review customer networks and infrastructure for pain points and highest cost failure risks. One component glitch can bring down a whole factory but predicting it can save millions of dollars and corporate reputations. On top of delivering tangible value and ROI, this also brings targeted KPIs that force behavior changes, establish stronger foundations and ultimately prioritize asset management.

But collaboration also goes further than that. At ABB, for example, we are accelerating the development and adoption of digital solutions through partnerships with innovative and nimble start-ups. As well as Pratexo, we have teamed up with OKTO GRID, which is developing a next generation transformer monitoring technology that can prolong component working life by another 40 years using low-cost sensing technology.

Through collaborations like this, we are supporting our customers’ energy transition and lowering their cost to operate. We will only see a greater focus on collaborations in 2024, and beyond.


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